I am illustrating this episode of LA with images of Christmas trees thanks to Francina, the shining light of the TSA who personally made sure that every traveler unfortunate enough to walk through JFK’s T5 Jetblue terminal Lane Eleven, her lane, to undergo passenger screening, suffered. Had I taken photographs, I am certain I’d be spending Christmas in Guantanamo.
Francina, a hardy woman built like an early 20th century fireplug, but with a less cheerful demeanor, was a meticulous screener. Nothing explosive, sharp, or shiny would possibly get past her. In that respect, we need thousands more screeners that share Francina’s level of attentiveness, but then we should also prepare to arrive at the airport at least half a day early instead of the suggested two hours. Her line creeped along in inches while passengers in lanes ten and twelve whizzed through at lightening speed. Stuck in Lane Eleven, I suffered stoically, but was relieved to see that no one was ordered to go through a scanner nor were they subject to a pat-down.
Then, the back-to-back wheelchair women arrived.
The most effective way to leapfrog to the head of Francina’s lane is to arrive via wheelchair. The most effective way to ensure that the upright masses in Francina’s lane feel further punished is to subject them to waiting for Francina to screen anyone in a wheelchair. This process alone easily shaved a half hour off the clock.
The first woman traveled light and the TSA agent that assisted her spread the pain; she had her belongings, not much more than a clutch bag and hat, screened in Lane Twelve. The second wheelchair woman, a woman traveling with her husband carried a stunning number of carry-on bags; I counted at least eight and groused to my compatriot, the patient and calm woman standing behind me:
Me: I thought you were only allowed to carry on two. Look at this, they’ve unpacked the Winnebago.
Second Wheelchair Woman’s TSA assistant placed all of that traveler’s luggage, as well as her husband’s, ahead of mine. Their load filled both metal tables. Francina suspected their carry-on contained the weapons of mass destruction we could never find in Iraq, so she screened it repeatedly.
Twenty minutes worth of solid screening.
When I was finally given the clear to allow my duffel bag to go through, I noticed that Second Wheelchair Woman’s husband digging through his wife’s suitcase, full of pink clothing, as another TSA agent hovered. Eventually, they were cut loose – and then probably missed their flight.
Francina glanced at me, and resisted the urge to spit. I walked through the screener, no bells or whistles rang. I thought:
Me: Yes! Home free at last!
Francina (thinking): You’re dreaming, Bozo.
My jacket with one boot, exited the scanner in its tub, and so did my personal carry-on item with my book and wallet. Yet, my white MacBook, in a tub with my second boot, brought the screening process to a screeching halt. Francina’s no-nonsense face went even more dour. She glanced at me with contempt, and then I made the fatal mistake, I returned her scowl and yapped:
My fatal use of “what?” immediately atrophied into “oh, shit” when she slowly slipped a rubber glove on her left hand. A fear shot through my entire being as I assumed the worst:
Me (thinking): Digital cavity search here I come.
Anemically I asked the patient and calm woman waiting behind me, whose flight was about to board in three minutes:
Me: Do you think she has an issue with Macs?
Patient and Calm Woman Behind Me: I have one, too. I think I’m gonna be subject to the same fate.
She was, but since she had the brain cells to not follow my lead in the whining department, her MacBook Pro was subject to a less intense scrutiny, she was gifted with a Get Out of Jail Free pass, and hopefully made her flight. I, on the other hand, was taken aside, and I instinctively knew, “Shut the hell up or prepare to enter Strip Search Land.”
Francina glared at me with complete contempt and then proceeded to elaborately swab my entire MacBook with a white disc that looked uncannily similar to a Tuck’s Medicated Hemorrhoid pad.
Francina: You can go. Merry Christmas.
Possibly, she really meant, “Screw you.”
I reached my gate five minutes before boarding. When my plane was wheels up, I felt immense relief even though I had to listen to the sounds directly behind me of an infant wailing across the entire country and a teenager vomiting incessantly into her air sickness bag. Those sounds were akin to a symphony when I remember the growl of Francina’s stern grade school principal voice.